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- The Pony Rider Boys in the Ozarks - 1/37 -


Scanned by Kent Fielden and Sean Pobuda

The Pony Rider Boys in the Ozarks

By Frank Gee Patchin

CHAPTER I

A MYSTERIOUS VISITOR

"Boys! B-o-y-s!"

There was no response to the imperative summons.

Professor Zepplin sat up in his cot, listening intently. Something had awakened him suddenly, but just what he was unable to decide.

"Be quiet over there, young men," he admonished, adding in a lower tone, "I'm sure I heard some one moving about."

The camp of the Pony Rider Boys lay wrapped in darkness, the camp-fire having long since died out. Not a sound disturbed the stillness of the night save the soft murmurings of the foliage, stirred in a gentle breeze that was drifting in from the southwest.

The Professor climbed from his cot, and, without waiting to draw on his clothes, stepped outside. He stood listening in front of his tent for several minutes, but heard nothing of a disturbing nature.

"I believe those young rascals are up to some of their pranks--either that, or I have been having bad dreams. While I'm up I might as well make sure," he decided, tip-toeing to the tent occupied by Tad Butler and Walter Perkins.

Both were apparently sleeping soundly, while in an adjoining tent Ned Rector and Stacy Brown were breathing regularly, sleeping the sleep that naturally comes after a day in the saddle over the rugged, uneven slopes of the Ozark Mountains.

Professor Zepplin uttered something that sounded not unlike an Indian's grunt of disgust.

"Dreams!" he decided sharply. "I should not have eaten that pie last night. Pie doesn't seem to trouble those boys in the least, but it certainly has a bad effect on my digestive apparatus."

Having thus delivered himself of his opinion on the value of pie as a bedtime food, the scientist trotted back to his tent, his teeth chattering and shoulders shrugging, for the mountain air was chill and the Professor was clad only in his pajamas.

No sooner had he settled himself between his comforting blankets, however, than he suddenly started up again with a muttered exclamation.

"I knew it! I told you so!"

This time there could be no doubt. He plainly heard a dry twig snap near by; whether it were under the weight of man or beast, he did not know.

"There is something out there. It couldn't have been the pie after all. I'm going to find out what it is before I get back into this bed again," he decided firmly, slipping quietly from under the covers and peering out through the half closed flap of his tent.

As before, all was silence, the drowsy, indistinct voices of the night passing almost without notice.

But Professor Zepplin instead of waiting where he was, reached for his revolver and then strode boldly out into the open space in front of the tents, determined to solve the mystery, and, if possible, without waking the boys.

The reader no doubt already has recognized in the four boys sleeping in the little weather-beaten tents the same lads who some time before had started off for a vacation in the mountains where they hunted the cougar and the bobcat, the thrilling adventures met with on that journey having been related in a former volume entitled, "THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN THE ROCKIES."

They will be remembered, too, as the lads who, in "THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN TEXAS," crossed the plains on a cattle drive, during the course of which Tad Butler bravely saved the life of the Chinese cook, by plunging into a swollen torrent; and later, saved a large part of the great herd, himself being nearly trampled to death in a wild stampede of the cattle.

It will be recalled also, how Tad Butler and his companions, after many strange and startling experiences, solved the veiled riddle of the plains and laid the ghost of the old church of San Miguel, for all time.

The stirring adventures of "THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN MONTANA," too, are still fresh in the minds of those who have followed the fortunes of the four lads since they first started out on their journeyings.

It will he recalled that in the latter story the lads experienced the thrill of being in a real battle between the cowboys and the sheep herders on the free-grass range of the north; how Tad Butler was captured by the Blackfeet Indians, and how, with the help of an Indian maiden, he managed to make his escape.

It will also be remembered that Tad was able to rescue another lad who, like himself, had been taken by the Blackfeet, and to return the boy to his father, none the worse for his exciting experiences. It will be recalled as well, how Tad Butler through his own efforts solved the mystery of the old Custer trail--a mystery that had perplexed and annoyed the ranchers along the historic trail for many months.

And now they were once more in the saddle, having chosen the Ozark Mountains in southwestern Missouri as the scene of their next explorations.

With them they carried a pack train of four mules, these being best adapted to packing the boys' belongings over the rugged mountains. For their guide they had engaged a full-blooded Shawnee Indian named Joe Hawk, known among his people as Eagle-eye, making a party of six, with eight head of stock in all.

At the time of the beginning of this narrative the Pony Riders were encamped on a fork of the White River some three days out from Springfield. Joe Hawk had asked permission to leave the party for the night to pay a visit to a fellow-tribesman who lived somewhere in the mountains to the west of them.

On second thought it occurred to Professor Zepplin that perhaps it might have been Joe, or Eagle-eye, as the boys had decided to call the Indian, whom he had heard skulking about the camp.

"Eagle-eye," he called softly.

There was no response, so the Professor, gripping his gun resolutely, crept along toward the opposite side of the camp where the noise had seemed to come from. So quietly had he moved that he made scarcely a sound, until suddenly there came a commotion that more than made up for the noise he had so successfully avoided before.

Stacy Brown, with his usual forgetfulness, had left his saddle in the middle of the camp. The Professor caught his toe on the obstruction, measuring his length on the ground instantly, where he floundered about for a few seconds.

"Instead of discovering the other fellow, I think I am discovering myself," he growled, scrambling to his feet, gingerly rubbing a knee.

Now the Professor walked with a distinct limp, while his bare feet seemed to pick up every sharp pebble in camp, all of which added to his discomfort.

"I'd make a nice sort of scout," he muttered. "Everybody within a mile of me would know I was coming even before I got started, I guess--"

The Professor suddenly cut short his words, and crouched down close to the ground. He thought he heard something ahead and a little to the right of him.

"Who's there?" he demanded.

No answer being made to his inquiry, he gripped his gun more firmly and crawled cautiously toward the spot where he thought he had heard some one moving. The night was so dark that he could make nothing out of the shadows about him, being obliged therefore to trust entirely to his sense of hearing.

Now he was certain that some one was in camp who had no business there, for the sound of footsteps was plainly borne to his ears--cautious, catlike steps, as if the intruder were seeking to get away without attracting attention.

The Professor, determined to capture the intruder, getting down on all fours to avoid possible detection, made a wide detour so as to come up behind where the fellow seemed to be at that moment. After much labor he managed to reach the desired position.

The Professor straightened up to listen. He must be close upon the other by this time. But what was his chagrin to hear those same footsteps on the opposite side of the camp. Professor Zepplin by much effort had just come from the other side himself.

"Stupid!" he muttered. "I'll take no roundabout way this time. I'll go straight ahead and be as quiet about it as I can."

He did so. He moved straight across the camp ground, not forgetting the saddle which he carefully avoided, but narrowly missing falling


The Pony Rider Boys in the Ozarks - 1/37

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